The company at the centre of a long-running row over poor maintenance of council homes in Leeds has been stripped of some of the work it was contracted to carry out.
Morrison Facilities Services (Morrison FS) signed a £35m a year deal with Leeds City Council in July 2011 to repair and maintain over 37,000 council homes in south and west Leeds.
But the contract has been dogged by problems from the start.
Persistent complaints from tenants about the quality of the service led to the council fining Morrison earlier this year and then giving it till 31st December to sort things out and improve its performance.
Now, with the deadline just days away, it has been revealed that the council has handed over part of the work in the contract to East North East Homes (ENEhL), one of the arms-length organisations that manages homes in the city on its behalf.
The transfer was decided in order to allow Morrison to concentrate its resources on improving its work on home repairs and empty council properties.
Which, put another way, is an admission from the council that Morrison bit off more than it could chew with the contract and wasn’t able to cope.
The transferred work, valued at £3.75m a year, covers the adaptation of homes for the elderly and disabled by installing stair lifts, wet floor showers, bathing equipment, ramps etc.
A council report says the work will be transferred to ENEhL officially from the beginning of February, but it seems clear that Morrison stopped doing the work some while ago.
“This decision was taken due to overall performance and to reduce the volume of work that MFS (Morrison) are responsible for thereby releasing capacity for MFS to focus on the responsive repairs and voids service. The transfer was confirmed in writing on the 7th September 2012,” the report said.
“The transfer and resulting release of resources for MFS has contributed to a significant improvement in Contractor performance on responsive repairs and voids during the Service Improvement Period,” it added.
It’s not clear who has been doing the adaptations work in the meantime or whether tenants have been informed of the new arrangements.
Where all this leaves the long-term relationship between Morrison and the council is unclear.
Since the new contract arrangements outlined above were agreed, Morrison has been taken over by rival social housing contractor Mears.
The company has still got the same old name, but new owners and new management who have been promising major clients like Leeds City Council that they’ll put right any “local issues” as quickly as possible.
So our guess is that they’ll be given a breathing space, if not a clean bill of health, and the contract will be allowed to continue: in part because of the “significant improvement” reported above – and in part because the cash-strapped council will be reluctant to lose the £1.4m it says it makes every year through “efficiency savings” delivered by the contract.
Whether tenants notice an improvement in the repairs and maintenance service under the latest change of management – the third in three years – remains to be seen.
The transfer of the adaptations work was “mutually agreed between the parties and there are no early termination penalties”, the council report said.